Taking the Leap: Deciding to Come Out and Be Out At Work

Jun 19, 2021 | 2020 Fall - Out at Work

By Kelly Thompson

Being out at work was a choice I made about three years ago, after talking to my daughter and getting the sense that I was living in a shifting world—one where I could live my full self out loud and not be made to feel that my existence was not “real.” I had heard many people over the years claim that bisexuality wasn’t “real,” and since I was married to a man, I hid in plain sight, only making vague arguments to people when the topic came up. When my daughter came out to me as bi (she was in her early 20s at the time), it opened my eyes to realize this is a huge part of her existence, and she’s feeling comfortable in sharing this with the world. I should, too.

I work for a business consulting company, historically a rather conservative industry. And I was in the legal department, another notch on the conservative belt. However, my company was celebrating Pride Month by publishing employee profiles about why LGBTQ+ rights were important, and why each of us felt the need to be involved in our newly created Employee Resource Groups (ERG). I had signed up to be a local leader of our Pride ERG, but my sense was that my colleagues thought I was “just being a good ally.” When I was asked to participate in one of these profiles, I thought this would be my chance to come out “officially.” I struggled with the language to use and it took me weeks to write my profile. This was being published to over 1,500 employees around the world as well as publicly on our company’s website—was I really ready to do this? I had come out to a few colleagues at work, especially those working closely with me in the ERGs, but I knew the rest of the company at which I’d been an employee for eight-plus years would not know this about me.

However, I realized I might help others by doing this. Perhaps my being out would signal to others that it was OK to be “out” at work, and also that it was OK to be bi in general—that our existence was legitimate and authentic. I had not met anyone in my eight-plus years who identified as bi+ at my work, only a few people who identified as gay. I felt rather privileged, as a white, able-bodied, cisgender woman and knew that my community as a whole would likely not shun me if I came out. We were living in the beginnings of the #MeToo movement, and women’s empowerment had really started to inspire me. It felt like a calling at the time.

It was quite liberating to see that profile published on our company website. It seems you come out over and over again in your lifetime, but that was one of the big moments for me, and I’ve embraced it thoroughly ever since. Several colleagues congratulated me on the profile, and one colleague, who had made passing dismissive remarks about bisexuality in the past, texted me to tell me how proud she was of me for doing it.

I’ve attended various conferences, participated in panels and other specific diversity efforts at work, and even led a workshop at the Out & Equal Workplace Summit about how to make the bi+ community feel welcome in the workplace. Last year I started a bi+ support group (using many of the resources found through this publication and website!) at a local LGBTQ+ community center. It has been fantastic to really connect with others in our community and share in both the wins and struggles of bi+ people throughout metro Detroit.

A bi+ colleague told me last year that me being out at work and active with our ERG was what inspired her to get involved, to become a local ERG leader, and to be out herself at work, which she had not done at a workplace before. That was so heartwarming to hear! It inspires me to continue looking for more opportunities to engage and support the bi+ community.

I have even started to come out as poly at work, and I use the terms “pan” and “pansexual” whenever I can, as that is how I truly identify. Those terms are not nearly as common in mainstream circles and educating others has been part of that journey. Telling people you are poly still raises eyebrows. I gauge my decision to use those terms based on the situation and how comfortable I feel around the person I’m speaking to. My workplace has made a significant effort in embracing diversity overall, so I feel supported in moving towards coming out as poly.

If you are thinking about coming out at work, consider reaching out to your leadership team. In the U.S., ask if they know about National Coming Out Day in October. Do they have any ideas about events they could host or articles/resources they could post about this important date? Their response will give you insight into how you might be supported in coming out. If you know of a colleague who is already out, talk to them—ask them what it’s like being out at work. Chances are they are eager to speak to and support you; I know I am!

Kelly Thompson is a nerdy polyamorous social justice champion who works in the legal arena in metro Detroit.

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